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Seahawks Can Win Free Agency by Predicting the Market

Seattle has no excuse for losing talent. It has already likely lost Nate Burleson and Cory Redding because of a perceived discrepancy between their worth and what they would actually be paid. Running a football franchise is competing in a game, and the rules change regularly. I have never been a strong advocate for Burleson, but losing him without compensation is like giving your opponent the Mediterranean-Baltic monopoly without compensation. Even the minimally valuable is more valuable than nothing.

Approaching an uncapped season, and its specific rules and limitations, Seattle should have prioritized not their own needs, but the markets needs. Allow me to explain.

Nate Burleson

Burleson turns 29 in August. He is within a wide receiver's peak seasons, and in fact had his best season in Seattle in 2009. He did that despite recovering from an ACL tear he suffered September of 2008. The market is especially thin for wide receivers, and wide receivers like corners are in constant demand because teams regularly use five. If the question was, which free agent was the best at his respective position, than franchising Olindo Mare made sense. He was among the best kickers in football last year. But the question is not which player was best at their position, but which player would be hardest to replace. And that is clearly Burleson. Seattle is thin at wide receiver. The market is thin at wide receiver. The wide receiver class is relatively thin, and first year wide receivers rarely ever produce at a high level.

Verdict: Seattle should have franchised Burleson. It would fill an immediate need without tying the team to a contract they could regret. He may not be worth the initial value, but, again, that's immaterial. Burleson is not worth $9.52 million in a vacuum, he's worth $9.52 million for Seattle in 2010.

Cory Redding

Redding is 29 and will turn 30 in November. He is within but exiting a defensive tackle's peak seasons. He's also had health problems as recent as 2008, but was mostly healthy for 2009. Seattle has a strong need at defensive tackle, but luckily the 2010 class looks loaded. The greater problem is that even if Seattle were to slap a transition tag on Redding, because he was converted to end last year, he would still cost over $10 million. A gut reaction might be that Redding is not worth $10 million, and it's likely he's not, but does it matter? Teams have a self-imposed cap, but even within those constraints, Seattle is likely to free itself of both Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney.

Verdict: Redding is a good candidate for a transition tag, because it would only lock Seattle into one season, it would give the team flexibility, it would likely discourage another team from pursuing him, and would fill an immediate need without damaging the team's cap in the future. If that is too rich for Seattle's blood, defensive tackle is a position Seattle could target in the draft and expect good results. The downside is that losing Redding hurts overall draft flexibility.

Olindo Mare

Seattle already slapped the franchise tag on Mare, making discussion of Mare and the above players somewhat pointless, but let's explore this again just for a second. Kickers are valuable, but what they are most valuable for, kick off distance, seems to be undervalued by the market. Knowing that, and knowing that the replacement value for a kicker is very high, possibly higher than league average given the emphasis on field goal percentage rather than kick off distance, it makes no sense to invest such a valuable resource into such a replaceable player.

Verdict: If Seattle was so enamored with Mare, and he's very good, offering him a long term extension would have been the right move. Ensuring that Seattle has a kicker for 2010 is spinning your wheels, and spending an irreplaceable resource to do it.

Onto the RFAs:

Ben Obomanu

After failing to develop into a capable receiver, Obomanu developed into a decent gunner. Seattle could assign him an original round tender, but since Obo was selected in the seventh round, that would do little to dissuade other teams from signing him. That might be the best possible solution. Seattle needs roster spots to add high upside talent, and Obomanu turns 27 this fall and has little upside to speak of. A team can find gunners.

Verdict: Assigning Obomanu an original round tender could earn a draft pick, and if no team bites, he could challenge a group of more talented rookies in training camp before being cut. If Seattle is not inclined to play games, Obomanu is an easily replaceable player and should in fact be replaced by a player with greater upside.

Brandon Frye

Frye has more value to Seattle than he does with another team, and, given his injury, he's not likely to be plucked from the roster if Seattle signs him to any kind of tender. He was selected in the fifth round. An original round tender should lock him up. Or, Seattle could attempt to sign him as a free agent, but would be playing with fire at a position it has little to no depth.

Verdict: An original round tender gives Seattle cheap depth without risking much.

The final three are players that would normally be unrestricted free agents. They are also the three most important players for Seattle to keep.

Darryl Tapp

Tapp has value not only to Seattle, but in a marketplace likely looking for the next Elvis Dumervil, value outside of Seattle. Tapp may not be on that level, but he's entering his prime, has a good record of health, and could upgrade a team looking for an immediate impact. A competent right defensive end with upside, Tapp is also irreplaceable for the Seahawks themselves.

Verdict: Placing a first and third tender might seem like an overvaluation of Tapp, but though it guarantees him $3.17 million, it would also lock him in for another season. Seattle should be at the point where they are talking to Tapp about a long term extension.

Chris Spencer

An original round tender would keep Spencer in blue, because he was selected in the first round of 2005, but the smarter play might be a second round tender. A second round tender would not only save Seattle roughly $800,000, it could turn a talented but redundant player into a draft pick. Another team, like Tennessee, might see Spencer as an immediate starter and a better talent than available in a marginal center class. It's unlikely that Tennessee would trade a second round pick for Spencer straight up, if not impossible, but it could be an entry for negotiations.

Verdict: Max Unger makes this an awkward decision. Seattle would be foolish to allow Spencer to leave for nothing, but he may not have a position with the team in 2010. Putting a second round tender on Spencer would either keep him here and give him another shot to prove himself, or land Seattle a pick.

Rob Sims

Sims is the second most valuable restricted free agent in the Seahawks RFA class and should be protected with a first round tender. It might seem like overpaying, a first round tender would cost $2.52 million, but it is not overpaying when we consider Sims value to the team, the difficulty with which Seattle would have replacing him, his age, 26, health, talent and developing ability.

Verdict: Sims is another player worth overpaying for, because he represents a clear need and is clearly better than Seattle is likely to get in free agency. Seattle should explore locking him into a long term contract.

That might seem like a lot of money paid out, and it is, but Seattle is not likely to be players in free agency, what free agents even present themselves, and regarding money, it's all short term commitments, much of which would be displaced by dropping Kerney and Jones.